[Modern] Dirt Farmer Wisdom
“I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
- Thomas Jefferson
by Robert Zulkoski, Social Entrepreneur Can you be in the right place at the right time or do you make your own luck? Philosophers and scholars have debated this for centuries but to the modern entrepreneur, the distinction makes no difference. You must do both. Cam MacKugler, founder and CEO of Seedsheet, knows this all too well. I continue my series of conversations with Vermont entrepreneurs this month by exploring how timing has had an effect on the trajectory of the Vermont company Seedsheet.
“I had the idea for Seedsheet after taking care of a friend’s farm and I got to enjoy the benefits of having my dinner right there in my yard...As we grew as a company, we realized that the consumer wanted a windowsill solution not a backyard solution, so we pivoted to the needs of the market,” says MacKugler.
Seedsheet is a Middlebury based company specializing in demystifying agriculture through easy-to-grow gardening systems for your backyard or windowsill. Founded in 2014, Seedsheet was positioned to capture market trends of local, organic, and GMO-free food that have only grown since the company’s founding. “We were able to leverage national trends to get our initial Kickstarter campaign with articles in FastCompany and VICE news.” says MacKugler. The Seedsheet team snowballed their success on Kickstarter into a distribution deal with Home Depot within the year, followed by an appearance on Shark Tank the following year.
“The timing of Shark Tank was incredible for us. We filmed the episode in September 2016 and the episode aired the following spring, just in time for gardening season.” says MacKugler. This stroke of good timing helped Seedsheet prove buyer validation not just customer base.
In its initial years, Seedsheet rode the wave of the buy local movement with increasingly health conscious customers to purchase its gardening kits and in 2018 was dealt another, even more fortuitous, trend: Cannabis. “When Vermont legalized Cannabis in 2018, we were able to do R&D into our next logical step: Weedsheet. It dovetails perfectly with our mission to make agriculture easier and empower the consumer. Now, we have determined the right cultivar and soil mix to take product from seed to harvest in eight-weeks,” says MacKugler.
Although Vermont has a legal market for Weedsheet, due to legal restrictions on selling across state borders and the size of the Vermont market, MacKugler recently moved to California to connect with larger Cannabis markets. Weedsheet will be scaled nationally over the next year, with production and day-to-day operations of Seedsheet and Weedsheet remaining in Addison County.
By now, you might be asking yourself: is the early success of Seedsheet a result of impeccable timing, entrepreneur’s luck, hard work, or all of the above?
In a TED talk, Bill Gross, founder of Idealab, says “Timing account[s] for 42% of the difference between success and failure.” Success is not only about having the best idea but knowing the best time to unleash it. Gross uses the excellent example of AirBnB to demonstrate the concept. It was doubtful that people would be comfortable with strangers staying in their homes but the platform launched during the 2008 recession, when people were looking for additional revenue streams. Fortuitous for AirBnB, this crisis forced users to change their perspective, open themselves up to new (and slightly unorthodox) opportunities and embrace strangers as customers.
So often we extol the virtue of being in the right place at the right time for business owners but when it comes down to it, it’s far more important to be ready to seize an opportunity when it presents itself. Listen to the market, listen to your customers, listen to policymakers and be willing to take the leap when the potential payoff exceeds the risk. Seedsheet has been able to capture market trends more than once because they remain nimble, opportunistic and uniquely positioned to capitalize on the shifting landscape.
Timing is everything, so you better be ready.
Mr. Zulkoski is one of the founders of Vermont Works Management Company (www.vermontworks.co) and The Vermont Innovation Commons (www.vtinnovationcommons.com), whose objective is to deliver capital, mentorship, and connectivity to Vermont’s innovation ecosystem. The goal is to ensure that Vermont is a full participant in the emerging, technology-enabled “new economy.” Mr. Zulkoski sees the dynamic changes sweeping the country and the globe as an achievable opportunity for Vermont to create large numbers of livable wage and sustainable jobs that help retain and attract talent and innovation while staying true to the “Vermont Brand” and what it represents to the citizens of Vermont. Mr. Zulkoski is also a founding shareholder and Director of Impact .Investment of The Conduit (www.theconduit.com), which connects thinkers, leaders, and innovators in social change, business, and the arts to create impact for the greater good.